Spots and stripes Article and photos by Nick du Plessis
Leopards are well known for their adaptability, it is the social dynamic that arguably makes them the most successful and hence, widespread, of the large cats in Africa. What we mean by ‘adaptability’ is not only the different habitats they thrive in, but also the prey they hunt and the variety of that prey. Most species tend to ‘specialize,’ but what happens if the prey they concentrate on runs out or learns to evade them? Leopards have been recorded to prey on everything from birds, eggs, lizards and even fish if necessary, and have the capability of bringing down medium size antelopes if the chance exists. But for the first time in my career I saw a large male leopard feeding on a zebra foal. This is unique and just highlights the opportunistic nature of the animal. Why it’s unique is because zebras are renowned for fighting back – they will kick, bite, chop at and even stamp the predator if they need to, and leopards, being as solitary as they are, are notorious for never picking a fight they know they won’t win. If they do and get injured, they don’t have the safety net of a pride or clan to fall back on for survival.